NBA Free Agency: Brooklyn Nets’ might be occupying the driver’s seat in the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes
The 2019 NBA free agency period does not begin until July 1st, and according to league rules, the teams and players cannot begin any negotiations until June 30th. For the time being, however, teams could prepare for it through trades that clear cap space, along with other moves involving non free agent players.
On Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets did just that with a move that could solidify recent rumors and thus foreshadow what is to come in a few weeks.
Recently, the Nets have been the subject of reports involving Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving whose status in terms of where he is playing next season is still unknown. According to these reports - most notably brought about by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith - between them and the New York Knicks, Irving has a stronger interest in Brooklyn and prefers to sign there if he leaves Boston come July.
It has been expected for some time that the Nets would look to compete with a few other organizations battling for max free agents to revamp their rosters this summer. However, it is now looking like Stephen A’s report is holding some weight and the Nets are in the driver’s seat to sign Kyrie Irving in free agency.
Shortly after the reports came out, the Brooklyn Nets decided to do some spring cleaning with their cap space and a call was sent out to the Atlanta Hawks. Upon an agreement, which was first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the team sent shooting guard Allen Crabbe, their 2019 first round pick, and a protected 2020 first round pick to the Hawks in exchange for forward Taurean Prince and a 2021 second round pick. The deal will be finalized on July 6th.
Not only was the trade done almost immediately after the reports of mutual interest between Kyrie Irving and the Nets, but it has also cleared enough cap space for Brooklyn to offer him a max contract. The Atlanta Hawks by getting Crabbe are taking on his $18.5 million contract, leaving the Nets with around $46 million in cap space.
The one thing separating the Nets from their cross-town rivals, the New York Knicks, in being able to recruit max contract free agents was cap space as the Knicks hold a league-leading $72 million. Now, however, with the $46 million in their pockets, Brooklyn has enough cap space after landing Irving to make a deal with a second max contract free agent such as Kevin Durant.
There are some who believe that Kyrie Irving has tried to recruit Kevin Durant to the Nets, but Durant’s preference if he leaves Golden State seems to be to sign with the Knicks. One could imagine that Durant is attracted to the allure of going to Madison Square Garden and getting the team to an NBA Finals and becoming the savior. Therefore, while it is the desired scenario for the Nets, like the Knicks, to land both, and Brooklyn is the better place for Irving in terms of dealing with media presence, it is unlikely that both will sign there.
Another sign that could foreshadow Kyrie Irving signing with the Brooklyn Nets besides the team’s recent moves and cap space availability is the guard’s recent activity in New York City. Numerous reporters have had sources say that Kyrie Irving has been looking at townhouses in the area, most notably in the Upper East Side which isn’t far from Brooklyn. These rumors have also been made for Kevin Durant recently and although they are difficult to prove true, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t receive some attention.
Thanks to smart decision making in the Allen Crabbe deal with Atlanta, the Nets have themselves another advantage when it comes to securing a max contract free agent like Irving. They are now able to preserve rising point guard D’Angelo Russell, who is a restricted free agent, and could offer him a near max deal if not max to remain on the roster and be the #2 guy if another isn’t acquired.
For the New York Knicks, this could be more of an Achilles heel for them in free agency.
Russell is starting to show offensive prowess and growth in Brooklyn after a failed stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, and his rising ability is appealing to free agents. While the Knicks have some young talent to coincide with a star, they are more pressured to secure a second max player in order to be appealing to a first, which for them would be Kevin Durant.
This is where Brooklyn being the preferred destination for Kyrie Irving could be a cause for concern on the other side of the bridge.
If Irving decides to sign with the Nets, the Knicks could be without a second max free agent to provide Kevin Durant a sidekick in New York. Many believe that having one is a major condition for Durant to come over from Golden State, and while there are other viable options such as Hornets guard Kemba Walker, Irving seems to be an initial preference. In addition, the other options available could all be leaning towards staying with their current teams upon signing new long-term deals.
The last thing that Brooklyn has that makes them appealing to Kyrie Irving is playoff experience. The Nets have had recent exposure to the playoffs with their appearance this past season. The New York Knicks, on the other hand, haven’t seen the playoffs since 2013. Kyrie is a player like the others who wants to win and that could easily sway his decision.
Originally it seemed like the Knicks, Lakers, and possibly the Celtics were in the forefront of the free agency race this summer, but now there is some new competition in the Brooklyn Nets. They may not be coming in with the greatest cap space or amount of assets, but they are still legitimate competition and look primed to secure at least one free agent in Kyrie Irving come July.
If a deal is reached, it could have a multifold impact on the rest of the free agency period and the fate of teams like the Knicks.
The mutual interest is there and the cap space with it, therefore it’s time for NBA teams to look at the Brooklyn Nets as a factor this offseason heading into the 2019-2020 season. There are still a few weeks until the free agency period opens up and teams can make offers to free agents, but at this moment in time, the ball is in the Brooklyn Nets’ court to go out and land Kyrie Irving.